Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gavdos Island


The islet of Gavdos, opposite Sfakia, is the southern-most border of Greece and Europe. It is 22 nautical miles away from Loutro, right in the middle of the Libyan Sea. According to Callimachus, this is the ancient isle of Ogygia where, as Homer claims in "Odyssey", the nymph Calypso lived. Other names of Gavdos in the past were "Cavdos" and "Clavdos" (Ptolemens and Ierocles), "Glavdi" (the Epistles), "Gozzo" (the Venetians). In the first Byzantine period, Gavdos had a bishop, as it had many inhabitants, but, during the Venetian Rule, the islet was abandoned, as pirates sought refuge there. Until the late 18th, early 19th century, Gavdos belonged to Sfakia and was part of the Municipality of Anopolis Sfakion. In 1925, it was pronounced a separate community, and remained part of the county of Sfakia, until 1950. Then, since the majority of the locals had moved to Paleochora, Gavdos became part of the county of Selino. Bibliography mentions the existence of 172 inhabitants in the settlements of Kastri, Ambelos, Vabiana and Metochia, as well as the existence of pre-war settlements such as Drethiana, Xenaki, Galana, Fragliathana. Today, apart from the harbor Karave, there are three village on the islet: Kastri (the capital), Vatsiana and Ambelos. The year- round inhabitants number approximately 40. Gavdos is shaped triangularly, its terrain plain and semi-rocky and the climate warm and dry, with few rain showers. A big part of the island is covered with pine-trees and cedars, the products of which are known for their aphrodisiac qualities. The islet's beaches (Saracenico, Korfos, Tripiti, Ag. Ioannis, Potamos), having recently won the award "Golden Starfish", lie here proud, golden, with crystal waters.

A brief history of Crete

Greek history and Myths
Greek history can be traced back over 40,000 years . No one knows when myths were first invented. Many come before the time of writing and were passed on from word of mouth. It is probably the spoken tradition the helped them survive upheavals when writing was destroyed and forgotten.

The Changing Myths (Greek)
zeus and kouritesConquerors and peaceful settlers brought their own beliefs into Greece where they were adopted or combined with myths and god that already existed, so they changed and developed over the centuries. They probably chances less as they were written down, but different versions of many myths still survive.
At least two areas of the prefecture of Rethymno are directly connected to mythology:
The Idaison Andron Cave in the mountain range of Psiloritis and the Talarian Mountains (today called Kouloukounas in the Milopotamos Area: Rhea (the Greek goddess of the earth, mountains and forests) sought refuge from her furious husband (who was also her brother) Kronos who had swallowed his previous children. When her new son Zeus was born legendary demons of Crete danced wildly hitting their shields to hid the noise, then when Zeus was older, he tricked Kronos into regurgitating his brothers and sisters.
The second myth is that the Talean Mountains are connected with the legendary giant Talos. Talos protected Crete against its enemies, hindering them when they got close. It took the the beauty of Medea's arriving on the Argous to make him weak and by removing a nail from his foot, spilled his blood and made him fall into the Cretan soil dead.

20,000 to 8,300 BC (Palaeolithic)
Inhabiting caves from time to time the people of this period where probably seasonal hunter-gatherers. No certain gathering of plant foods is attested before ca. 11,000 BC First appearing at this time are lentils, vetch, pistachios, and almonds. Neither wild oats nor wild barley become at all common until ca. 7000 BC. Small end-scrapers for removing the flesh from hides are common. As far as archaeologists can tell there the inhabitants at that time did not produce any pottery or architecture.
8,300 - 6,000 BC (Mesolithic)
6,000-3,000 BC (Neolithic)
3,000-ca. 2,100 BC Early Bronze Age
2,100-ca. 1,600 BC Middle Bronze Age
1,600-ca. 1,200 BC Late Bronze Age

pre 6,000 BC – Hunter-gatherers
The area now know as Greece was inhabited at this time by wandering tribes, hunting and living solely off of the land. No religious artefacts have been found and very little in known of the peoples of this time.
When farming skills were developed, people started to settle in small communities and leaned how to make pots, weave and work metals. Clues to the religion of this early civilisation are found in fine object such as those made of marble, fertility symbols etc.
Greek society advanced and developed until about 2200 BC when invaders from the North disrupted the process. Fortunately the island of Crete escaped and a sophisticated civilization grew up, called Minoan after its kings, Minos. Many works of art survive, illustrating some aspects of religious life. Bulls often feature in Cretan myths and some of these were latter adopted by the mainlanders into Mycenaean mythology.

1600 BC to 12000 BC – The Mycenaean
Gradually the mainland recovered and started to develop again. It borrowed many ideas from Minos and finally became more powerful that Crete. The civilization is called Mycenaean after its major city called Mycenae. The historical event that inspired the legends about Jason and the Argonauts took place during this period. The truth was exaggerated and embroidered to form the legends, but there is archaeological evidence for some of these event.

1200 to 700 BC – The Greek dark ages
Between 1200 and 1050 BC the Mycenaean culture collapses due to civil wars and more invasions from the North. The myths survived, passed on orally through the generations.
The poet Homer lived at the end of the dark Ages. He is said to have composed two great works about the ancient legends, called the Ilaid and the Odyssey. They were not written down until much later, but the stories were already 500 years old when Homer was alive.
Homer probably spoke his poems while playing the lyre. Greek schoolboys in the later periods had to learn parts of its poetry by heart and every scholar could quote him.

700 to 500 BC – The Archaic period
Between 700 and 500 BC Greece one again became rich in art, literature and commerce. Trade was established with many Mediterranean counties and coins were introduced as money. They experimented with government and society organisations but there religion was still based on the ancient myths and legends, as can be seen by their art.

500 to 336 BC – The Classic Period
This is probably the best-known period of Ancient Greek history. We know a lot about how the people lived at this time and our image of ancient Greeks is most influenced by Classical art and literature. People lived in city-states, and much seafaring and trading went on. Optimally harmony was believed to be a sign of divinity.Links Therefore training the body and the spirit to pursuit harmony was a very important part in the education of the young Greek. In the Greek grammar schools the young ones were trained athletically. In the mean time scholar were present to teach them grammar, astrology, philosophy and other subjects. The people strove for spiritual as well as physical perfection.
Many plays based on the myths were written during this Classic Period, and it is these versions that come to us today.

336 to 31 BC – The Hellenistic Period
This era is called the Hellenistic Period, after Hellen, the legendary ancestor of the Greeks, the son of Deucalion and the grandson of Prometheus.
The empire of Alexandra the Great came within this period, the Greek culture spread across the near and middle east after his death in 323 BC

The decline of Greece.
In the last century before the birth of Christ, the Roman Empire expanded and become more powerful then Greece although the Romans were greatly influenced by the Greeks. They had their own gods but did not have such complexed mythology. Gradually they mixed the Greek mythologies with their own until both mythologies where almost the same. The Romans names for their gods and heroes adopted from Greece.

Crete: 10 things not to miss

1 - Knossos
The largest of Crete's Minoan palaces, extensively excavated and controversially restored, Knossos is the island's major tourist attraction. Mythically, this was the labyrinth of the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull imprisoned by King Minos.

2 - SamariĆ” Gorge
It's a strenuous half-day hike, but the 'Iron Gates' alone, an opening only a few metres wide between 500m high rock walls towards the end, make it worth your while.

3 - Aghios Nikolaos
It may be touristy, but for good reason: this is an attractive town set in a region of well-preserved ancient sites, picturesque villages and breathtaking coastal scenery.

4 - Rethymnon
A city full of relics from its Venetian and Turkish past, Rethymnon is the capital of a picturesque region that also contains Crete's most sacred shrine to independence.

5 - Malia
Situated between the Lassithi mountains and the coast, Malia is the third largest Minoan palace in Crete after Knossos and Phaistos.

6 - The caves at Matala
Wonderful underwater caves, used in prehistoric times as places of worship and dwellings.

7 - Heraklion Museum
Regarded as one of the most important museums in Europe, with many stunning archaeological finds on display. Located in the centre of Iraklion (Heraklion) city.

8 - Sitia
Crete's easternmost town, set in an amphitheatre among gentle mountain scenery and lush vineyards, is a laid-back place with tier after tier of colour-washed houses rising from the tree-lined waterfront.

9 - Caves
Crete is an underground paradise for speleologists: there are some 300 caves dotted around the island and the HaniĆ” Mountaineering Club runs organised expeditions (

10 - Beaches
Crete may be littered with striking relics of ancient cultures, but many visitors come for its beaches. There are miles and miles of sandy shores, but you are likely to have to share them with lots of fellow tourists.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The island of Spinalonga

The island of Spinalonga (official name Kalidon) is located in the eastern part of Crete, near the town of Elounda. Harking back to the Venetian occupation, the name Spinalonga is Italian, meaning "long thorn". The location is also the setting for Victoria Hislop's bestselling novel The Island and Werner Herzog's experimental short film Last Words.

In 1579, the Venetians built a fortress on Spinalonga over the ruins of an acropolis. They kept control of the island until the Ottoman Empire took possession of it in 1715.

The island is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe, being used in this manner from 1903 until 1957. The last inhabitant, a priest, left in 1962. This was to maintain the religious tradition of the Greek Orthodox church, in which a buried person has to be commemorated 40 days, 6 months, 1, 3 and 5 years after their death. (Leper colonies that have survived Spinalonga include Tichilesti in Eastern Romania, Fontilles in Spain and Talsi in Latvia. As of 2002, one of the few remaining lazarettos in Europe is the one in Dubrovnik.)

There are two entrances to Spinalonga, one being the lepers' entrance, a tunnel known as Dante's Gate. This was so named because the patients did not know what was going to happen to them once they arrived. However, once on the island they received food, water, medical attention and social security payments. Previously, such amenities had been unavailable to Crete's leprosy patients, as they mostly lived in the area's caves, away from civilization.

Today, the unoccupied island is one of the main tourist attractions in Crete. In addition to the abandoned leper colony and the fortress, Spinalonga is known for its small pebble beaches. The island can easily be accessed from Elounda and Agios Nikolaos. Tourist boats depart from both towns on a daily basis. There is no accommodation on Spinalonga, meaning all tours last only a few hours. Boat trips from Elounda take approximately fifteen minutes while trips departing Agios Nikolaos can take upwards of one hour.

The book "Island of the Damned" by Victor Zorba - a local expert on the island - is still in print. It relates the true story of the leper colony and, as the author met with the last governor of the colony, contains many exclusive photos and stories of the German occupation.
The book "The Island" by Victoria Hislop is set on Spinalonga and shares the fictional story of a family's ties to the leper colony.

Elounda Village

This is a world renowned tourism resort located to the north of Aghios Nikolaos, having an indented coastline, shaded beaches, crystal clear seas, and a tranquil and heavenly environment.
It is 10km distance from Aghios Nikolaos, and the cutting along the side of the road affords you the opportunity to admire the spectacular view of Mirambello Gulf and Korfos. The village is built on the southern coast of the Gulf of Elounda, 1km east of the ancient settlement of Olounda, from which it has taken its name. This used to be the favored place of legendary figures from Minoan Crete and of historical figures of our times.
The four villages of Elounda are spread out along the lower slopes of the approach to the Massif.
Pano and Kato Elounda, Mavrikiano and the new settlement of Skisma, the port of Elounda, bask in the glorious sea as it opens up before them offering its beauty and charm.
This sea, as described by Mr. Anestis Makridakis, glows like a sapphire under the azure light of the sky, rose-hued in summer afternoons, silvered on moonlit nights. It is a sea whose light infuses you gently but swiftly, having the power to touch you emotionally. To float in this sea, or to observe it from further away is like dreaming with open eyes.
This peaceful sea was used as a stop-over and refueling point during the period between both world wars by the UK’s Imperial Hydroplane Service The divine creator, in joyous and happy time of inspiration and joviality, did not skimp here with the colors, the lines or the boldness of combinations, giving a magical impression to the landscape. Here, lovers of the art of cinema, of the graphic arts, of music and poetry find an exceptional sight.
Elounda is a place-name that is easy to pronounce, but difficult to describe. It is a place that can only be experienced personally, to live forever thereafter in your dreams.

Rethymnon Historical Information

Rethymnon has a rich and varied history that spans thousands of years. Findings from caves in the region provide evidence of human habitation that dates back to Neolithic times. Findings from within the town indicate that Rethymnon itself has been inhabited since the late Minoan Era. During the 3rd and 4th Centuries BC the autonomous state of Rithymna was of sufficient importance to issue its own coinage.

The Venetian rule saw Rethymnon flourishing as a commercial, artistic and administrative centre. The Venetians created a harbour, built extensive fortifications - including the impressive Fortezza which still dominates the town today - and constructed distinctive monuments such as the Rimondi Fountain and the Loggia.

During the Turkish occupation Rethymnon fell somewhat into decline. However the town did become an important centre for local resistance in Crete's battle for independence. The Turks also left their mark architecturally, most notably in the modifications they made to Venetian buildings and in the construction of minarets and mosques.

In 1913, Rethymnon, along with the rest of Crete became unified with Greece. During the Second World War local inhabitants played an extremely active role in resisting the Nazi occupation; townspeople and villagers frequently risking their own lives in the process.

In recent decades Rethymnon has continued to grow and prosper - as a centre for local industry, tourism and a seat of learning.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chania: The Origin of the City's Name

Scholars have been trying for years to analyse the etymology of the name "Hania," and to decide on the time when the name was changed from "Kythonia" to "Hania". The new name is first met as "Cania" in the document "Sexteriorum Cretensiu in Militias divisio" in 1211. Then the name "Canea" is mentioned in the document which relinquishes the Hania area to the Venicians in 1252. As for the change of the name from "Kythonia" to "Hania", the most convincing point of view is that of Prof. N. Platonas, who associates it with the existence of a big village "Alhania", named after the God "Valhanos" (Vulcan). The Sarasin Arabs found this name easier to use but confused it with their own word "Al Hanim" (the Inn). After the departure of the Arabs, the syllable "Al", probably taken to be the Arab article "Al" (the), was dropped when the name was translated into the Greek "Hania" and the Latin "Canea".

Historically and Archaelogically, the hill of Kasteli is one of the most significant parts of the city, as it has been inhabited since Neolithic times. The factors which contributed to the uninterrupted use of Kasteli as a residential area were : its geographic position and the fertile plain on the south, both of which contributed to making the district an important commercial and transport junction. Excavations have brought to light remains dating from the first Minoan period (2800-2000 B.C.). The houses of that period are large with well constructed rooms. The walls and floors are painted with a bright red colour. The Kasteli area was also inhabited in the Post-Minoan period (1580/1550 - 1100 B.C.).

According to the evidence offered by the clay tablets in Linear A scripture found on the hill, the area was reserved for royal use. Between 1380 and 1100 B.C. it developed into a commercial centre which was in constant communication with the rest of Crete and Greece.A historically significant ceramics workshop, known as "the Kythonia Workshop" has also been found in the Hania area. It now belongs to the post-royal period.

Chania Prefecture

The Prefecture of Chania covers the Western part of Crete; its extent is 2.376 square kilometres, the coast line 250 kilometres approximately, and it counts circa 150.000 permanent residents. It is divided in five provinces: Apokoronou, Kissamou, Kydonias, Selinou and Sfakion. Chania is the capital city of the prefecture.

Most of the territory is mountainous, with the mountain chain of Lefka Ori ("White mountains", named so because of the snow covering the tops all year round), to be the highest mountain (2.453 metres); at the intervals there are small plains and valleys very fertile, and well watered, due to the various small rivers and brooks flowing through them, which, unlike to the rest of the Greek islands, do have enough water even in summer.

The area has a magnificent natural environment; apart from the small rivers and brooks here and there, there are lakes and lagoons, caves and rocks, as well as several gorges both at the North and at the South, the most well known among them being the Samaria gorge, the longer in Europe, declared as a National Park and protected by the Greek State.

Visiting the villages of the inland is a fascinating experience, both for the landscape and for their character: most of them are not affected by tourism, they maintain their traditional features in what concerns the architecture and their residents proudly maintain their traditional way of life. It is in those villages that the visitor can understand the special characteristics of the Cretan people, experience the hospitality and taste and smell the scents of the area.

The routes from one village to another in most cases are one of the attractions of the place, since the secondary roads pass through sites extremely scenic and beautiful and driving there is an unforgettable experience.

Chania prefecture has coasts at the North, at the South and at the West; the northern coasts form three large bays: the Kissamos bay, the Chania bay and the Souda bay, the latter being the best protected from the winds. Souda is one of the bigger natural ports in the Mediterranean Sea. The beaches at the North and West are in their majority sandy and very much affected by the northern winds, as the small islets around cannot prevent them from arriving to the coast at all their strength.

The southern coasts are open to the South, with no considerable bays. Partly sandy and some of them pebbly, the beaches have crystal clear blue water and very interesting seabed, for the fans of snorkelling and underwater activities. Swimming starts earlier in the South, where the weather is a bit warmer.

In the territory of the prefecture it is found the last part of the European path E4, which passes through the whole of Europe and Greece and ends up at Crete; in the island the path starts from Kissamos (Kastelli) and ends up at Siteia in the Eastern part.

The place is wealthy enough. Traditionally, one of the main sources of wealth used to be, and still is, agriculture and cattle breeding. However, the attractions of the place, the magnificent nature, the development of facilities and the hospitality of the locals have made of tourism one of the main economic resources for the prefecture. The area is one of the main destinations both of the Greeks, for vacation, excursions and business, but also of tourists from all over the world.
The history of the place goes back to the Neolithic times; it flourished in the Minoan period and was very important during the Venetian domination of the island, mainly due to the excellent port of Souda; it has been the centre of numerous revolts during the Ottoman domination, as the independent character of the people could not stand being under the yoke of any foreigner. During the World War II, it has been one of the most important places of resistance, as the Battle of Crete has taken place in the territory of Chania, due to the interest of the Germans for the airport of Maleme, one of the two main military targets on the island.

Historical Archive of Crete

The Historical Archive of Crete was established in 1920 based in Chania and constitutes a Public Interprefectorial Service, a decentralised department of the General Record Office of the State, which comes directly under the Ministry of Education. It is housed in a public, neoclassical, scheduled building at 20 I. Sfakianaki Str. and it also includes a second, ancillary building with filing-rooms.
The Historical Archive has reached today such a high level, that it is considered to be the largest of the regional Historical Archives in our country in terms of content, volume and material importance. The aim and mission of th Historical Archive of Crete consists in the collection, classification, recording, preservation and promotion of all kinds of archives and relics related to Cretan History. Today, approximately 700,000 historical documents are preserved in the Historical Archive : Large historical collections, such as the official correspondence of the Cretan Revolutions of 1821-1830, 1866-1869, 1877-1878, 1895-1898 and 1905. Moreover, it includes many private collections with archives material belonging to Rebels and other prominent figures, the archives of Cretan fighters, the archives of the Turkish Administration in Crete, the Central Translation Office of Crete, the Cretan Government and German Occupation, as well as Administrative, Judicial, Church archives, etc., a large photographic material with approximately 3,000 photographs, a complete record of the Cretan Press since 1831, a specialised Library containing about 10,000 titles, as well as a large museum collection of valuable historical and folklore relics.

Address :I.Sfakianaki 20, 73134 Chania tel.& fax 0030 28210 52606
web site: Open :9:00 - 13:00 exept Saturdays and Sundays
Responsible:Simandiraki Zaxarenia